May 28, 2020 — Under the direction of Michael Devetsikiotis, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), The University of New Mexico recently joined the IBM Q Hub at North Carolina State University as its first university member.

The NC State IBM Q Hub is a cloud-based quantum computing hub, one of six worldwide and the first in North America to be part of the global IBM Q Network. This global network links national laboratories, tech startups, Fortune 500 companies, and research universities, providing access to IBM’s largest quantum computing systems.

Mainstream computer processors inside our laptops, desktops, and smartphones manipulate bits, information that can only exist as either a 1 or a 0. In other words, the computers we are used to function through programming, which dictates a series of commands with choices restricted to “yes/no” or “if this, then that.” Quantum computers, on the other hand, process quantum bits or qubits, that are not restricted to a binary choice. Quantum computers can choose “if this, then that or both” through complex physics concepts such as quantum entanglement. This allows quantum computers to process information more quickly, and in unique ways compared to conventional computers.

Quantum computer developed by IBM Research in Zürich, Switzerland. Image courtesy of University of New Mexico.

Access to systems such as IBM’s newly announced 53 qubit processor (as well as several 20 qubit machines) is just one of the many benefits to UNM’s participation in the IBM Q Hub when it comes to data analysis and algorithm development for quantum hardware. Quantum knowledge will only grow with time, and the IBM Q Hub will provide unique training and research opportunities for UNM faculty and student researchers for years to come.

How did this partnership come to be? Two years ago, a sort of “call to arms” was sent out among UNM quantum experts, saying now was the time for big ideas because federal support for quantum research was gaining traction. Devetsikiotis’ vision was to create a quantum ecosystem, one that could unite the foundational quantum research in physics at UNM’s Center for Quantum Information and Control (CQuIC) with new quantum computing and engineering initiatives for solving big real-world mathematical problems.

“At first, I thought [quantum] was something for physicists,” explains Devetsikiotis. “But I realized it’s a great opportunity for the ECE department to develop real engineering solutions to these real-world problems.”

CQuIC is the foundation of UNM’s long-standing involvement in quantum research, resulting in participation in the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) passed by Congress in 2018 to support multidisciplinary research and training in quantum information science. UNM has been a pioneer in quantum information science since the field emerged 25 years ago, as CQuIC Director Ivan Deutsch knows first-hand.

“This is a very vibrant time in our field, moving from physics to broader activities,” says Deutsch, “and [Devetsikiotis] has seen this as a real growth area, connecting engineering with the existing strengths we have in the CQuIC.”

IBM Q Hub at North Carolina State University. Image courtesy of University of New Mexico.

With strategic support from the Office of the Vice President for Research, Devetsikiotis secured National Science Foundation funding to support a Quantum Computing & Information Science (QCIS) faculty fellow. The faculty member will join the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with the goal to unite well-established quantum research in physics with new quantum education and research initiatives in engineering. This includes membership in CQuIC and implementation of the IBM Q Hub program, as well as a partnership with Los Alamos National Lab for a Quantum Computing Summer School to develop new curricula, educational materials, and mentorship of next-generation quantum computing and information scientists.As part of the Q Hub at NC State, UNM gains access to IBM’s largest quantum computing systems for commercial use cases and fundamental research. It also allows for the restructuring of existing quantum courses to be more hands-on and interdisciplinary than they have in the past, as well as the creation of new courses, a new master’s degree program in QCIS, and a new university-wide Ph.D. concentration in QCIS that can be added to several departments including ECE, Computer Science, Physics and Astronomy, and Chemistry.

“There’s been a lot of challenges,” Devetsikiotis says, “but there has also been a lot of good timing, and thankfully The University has provided support for us. UNM has solidified our seat at the quantum table and can now bring in the industrial side.”

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Source: Natalie Rogers, University of New Mexico